This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.

First World War: Airfields

By 1910 the major military powers had begun experimenting with powered flight for military purposes. Salisbury Plain was one of the heartlands of military and civil aviation in its formative years. The Plain provided the perfect arena for pioneer airmen, and scattered memorials pay tribute to these first flyers. One of them, now the site of English Heritage’s new Stonehenge visitor centre, commemorates Captain Eustace Loraine and Staff Sergeant Richard Wilson who were killed in May 1912 while flying from nearby Larkhill, the first of a series of civilian schools where army officers received their initial flight training.

Stow Maries airfield in Essex, is probably the best preserved First World War airfield in Europe and its 24 original buildings are listed at Grade II*.
Stow Maries airfield in Essex, is probably the best preserved First World War airfield in Europe and its 24 original buildings are listed at Grade II* © Private Collection

Remarkably, the hangars at Larkhill still survive, as have many of the buildings at nearby Upavon - under development from 1912 as the Central Flying School - and nearby Netheravon, which from late 1913 was a prototype flying base and has retained the layout of its flying field and a complete group of officers’ and airmen’s accommodation with their associated messes. Stow Maries airfield in Essex is the best-preserved First World War airfield in Europe and its 24 original buildings are listed Grade II*.

It was built in 1916 as a direct response to increased attacks on the British mainland by German Zeppelins and later Gotha and Giant fixed-wing bombers. Abandoned in 1920 and subsequently re-used for agricultural purposes, this unique site has been saved and is the subject of on-going restoration.

Nationally, by November 1918 the RAF occupied 30 sites as well as 60 airship and 14 balloon stations.

Was this page helpful?

First World War Airfields

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Old Sarum airfield, near Salisbury, Wiltshire. Rare survivor of a Training Depot Station repair hangar complete with attached workshops. Listed Grade II. CODE T/C. Private Collection
  • Bracebridge Heath airfield, Lincolnshire.  Triple span hangars built in 1917 to house newly delivered aircraft. Demolished 2001. © English Heritage (BB99/16223)
  • Stow Maries airfield, Essex.  Fighter airfield built in 1917 as a base for Royal Flying Corps aircraft to intercept German airships and Gotha bombers raiding the East coast and London.  Listed Grade II*.  Private Collection
  • Stow Maries airfield, Essex.  Headquarters building of Flight 37 Home Defence Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. Listed Grade II*. Private Collection
  • Stow Maries airfield, Essex. Power House containing a generator to power the airfield’s electricity. Listed Grade II*. Private Collection
  • Duxford airfield, Cambridgeshire.  These buildings housed carpentry and rope workshops for the maintenance of the wooden and fabric covered aircraft based at the airfield. Private Collection
  • Royal Flying Corps airfield, Orford Ness, Suffolk.  From 1916, this airfield was home to the Armament and Experimental Flight of the Royal Flying Corps. During the war it carried out research into aerial bombing and the use of aircraft-mounted machine guns. Pictured here is a magazine where bombs would have been stored. (DP070012)
  • Royal Flying Corps airfield, Orford Ness, Suffolk.  From 1916, this airfield was home to the Armament and Experimental Flight of the Royal Flying Corps. This First World War barracks was one of several that provided accommodation for some of the 612 air force personnel stationed here. Listed Grade II (DP070023)
  • Royal Flying Corps airfield, Orford Ness, Suffolk.  Cast concrete inscription on one of the site’s explosive magazines, indicating it was constructed by the Cheshire Field Company Royal Engineers. Private Collection